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An adequate assessment of the relationship between simplicity and complexity in architecture is the subject of numerous discussions. While more people tend to agree with simplicity, some claim that complexity usually prevails. Even so, they are complementary to one another, and complexity serves as the basis for building up simplicity. This essay will define architectural ideas that, in the long run, will improve understanding of the subject matter, leading to the identification of linkages between simplicity and complexity in modern architecture. In order to develop conclusions and provide suggestions in the event that new notions may have been idealized, a summary of the key trends would be used. The word simple is drawn from a Latin word “simples” which means “to fold into one.” However, when an etymological research was undertaken by C. S. Lewis, he rejected the original meaning and in turn found that simple can be said to mean a part of something complex which in turn describes what is complex indirectly. What is suggested by simple in the context of architecture is that architecture integrates what is familiar to buildings to meet the shifting infrastructural demands with much focus on the primary purpose for which the architectural building tends to serve: to modify the existing simple structure into a complex unit.
According to Leonardo da Vinci, “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” “Less is more” concept from Mies Van Der Rohe or “It seems that perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away” by Antoine de Saint Exupery.
Contemporary architecture, on the other hand, refers to a 21st century architecture that mirrors massive competition in the building industry working on different designs and construction styles. The styles include postmodernism as well as high technology architecture which continues to advance to a highly expressive and conceptual form.
Simplicity and complexity in contemporary architecture can, therefore, be defined as architectural styles that utilize simple to understand and adapt techniques. The techniques depend on the current structural needs as well as shifting demands that might necessitate a combination of structures and forms which can be blended to produce complex structures satisfying the purpose for which it was meant to achieve.
Relationships between simplicity and complexity in the contemporary architecture
Modern architecture is widely accepted due to its flexibility in design which is a consequence of the structural sophistication particularly in beams and posts contrary to the element’s portability, load-bearing construction, standardization, and economy of a structure as well as prefabrication. Such sophistication are as a result of simple developments that are adjusted to suit the modern architectural practices which demand an increased use of smart design components that could be easily replaced, repaired, upgraded or maintained. The new technology, therefore, demands an improvement of the initial designs but the simple form is maintained in the long run. The overall goal is not to come up with a new structure but to make an improvement suggesting that simplicity and complexity in contemporary architecture are supplementing each other contrary to the belief that a new structure is a composite of new ideas and concepts.
The architects of the twentieth century apply little to no simplification at the expense of complexity. Le Corbusier and Alvar Aalto architectural works, for instance, have been identified as those types of architectures that have the potential to be highly sensitive to natural materials as well as fine detailing with the overall effect appearing intensely picturesque. However, when their architectural and artistic works are rationally evaluated, their output can never be picturesque. Their complexity can be aligned to part of a whole contrary to a desire to express themselves. The relationship can be said to be dual with one system unable to stand without the availability of the sister system. The contemporary architecture thus is “simply complicated.”
A complex architecture desire with its attendant contradictions has been an attitude that has dominated the architectural literature in the mannerist periods of the classical art as well as reemergence in the modern world. In today’s world, the same attitude applies to both programs in architecture as well as medium in design. In the first instance, there is urgent need to evaluate the medium of a building if a tall it would be vital to increase the scope of the architecture as well as modify the complexity of its goals. The simplified forms would prove complicated to be effective.
The minimalist design in the modern architecture, on the other hand, copied majority of its inspirations from the simplicity of traditional Japanese architecture. The traditional Japanese architecture designs their structures and buildings that comprise of dominant territorial claims which are achieved through different expressive symbolism, e.g., variation in the material used, different heights of the ceiling, beams and column placements as well as the floor mat. The connection between the complex and simplistic architecture is determined through a well-defined system of traditional codes without any need to utilize the explicit physical wall presence. The simplicity and complexity in contemporary architecture for that matter are transferable from one cultural set up to the next. The western architectural design, as well as the Middle East and Europe, designs when combined results into an intricate architecture but traces of original concepts can be identified as one view the structure. The structural relationships are thus flexible where one design from one cultural set up can be engraved into another cultural design blending with little effort. The idea is illuminated in the research by Rashid’s Modernity in tradition research when he said that:
“All apparent simplicity requires a lot of invisible complexity to make it work, and these hidden complexities need a tremendous amount of work and fund to make it work”
Space definitions also vary from one place to another but what is common is the necessity to have privacy. The cooking areas lie open and are rarely covered by walls but are just an isolated space that are identified through a zone of packed earth. The same concept is applied in a single room in a bahay kubo, a simplistic Indian architecture. The privacy in such structures are realized by just looking away, i.e., when one can be within a space, but beyond the view or outside the eye contact, privacy is achieved. Majority of the societal privacy achievement doesn’t require any physical walls as the walls are obtained through social conventions like the local perceptions. The concept has been upgraded to involve the adoption of cooking areas in contemporary architecture in the building’s living room.
Other than the multiple comparisons between the local perception and minimalism of space and use, there is also the integration of sophisticated optimized technology into the exemplary space devoid of sensible solutions. The bamboo sliding doorways in the hills, for example, are more efficient than conventional swing doors. The bamboos are not only lightweight but are also modern architectural details from archaic dwellings. When hinges prove to be in short supply, the sliding partitions can be adequately and quickly constructed away from the sight as well as quickly dismantled. What such generational architecture advancement suggests is that at the dawn of a new era, there is a perspective in architecture where simple architecture is blended with modern knowledge to come up with a hybrid design capable of satisfying individual as well as group desires in housing.
The vision to blend the simple architectural design with the prevailing environmental demands for favorable structures has not yet fulfilled its objective wholly. There is a higher tendency to cite contemporary examples to multiple situations of modern and traditional architectures. Both architectures are entirely displaced from each other thus limiting smoother transmission of lessons and ideas from the two. The adoption and subsequent refurbishment of old buildings are as a result of energy consumption and emissions. The refurbishment urge is to integrate energy-saving techniques in buildings that will reduce the possibility of environmental contaminations. Such sentiments are summarized Glenn Murcut when he said:
“…if we understand the reasons as to why something appears the way it does, or why it functions the way it does, then the principle is understood, and the understood principle, not the form it produces, can be transferred” (Glenn Murcutt, 1996).
The quote is a predicament of the existence of similarity between simplistic and complexity in contemporary architecture describing the existing gap between the two to be filled by complex and viscous medium bound to dynamism. The transmission process is bi-directional where the simplistic can be modified to be complicated and simplified depending on the prevailing circumstances. The Le Corbusier's ‘five points of architecture, for instance, draw their inspirations from traditional forms which is a mixture of aesthetic, cultural, physical as well as technological factors pool together into a single complex definition.
The analogy surrounding the houses and pavilion is relevant to the simplicity and complexity in the context of modern architecture. The two discredit the typical contradiction and complexity as well as simplicity which are inherent in the domestic programs that are composed of increased need for visual experience as well as technological and spatial possibilities making oversimplification of false simplicity.
One of the ancient school of thought in simplicity and complexity in contemporary architecture held that a building’s interior function to fill space and thus must be separated from the outside. Other exterior designs like the large dome structures, pillars as well as outer linings signify stronger protection and immense design power. What is distinguishing across these structures is that the contradictory interior spaces conform and doesn’t go against the continuity philosophy as put forward by the modern architectures achieving both interpretation and purpose. Internal and external designs, therefore, suggest that the wall acts as the change point between simplicity and complexity and through such an intersection do we find real architecture to operate.
The complexity architecture recognition mirrors what Louis Kahn has termed “the desire for simplicity” which ultimately describe architectural complexity as aesthetic simplicity to realize the desires of the mind. The Doric’s temple simplicity to the sight, for instance, is accomplished through the renowned subtleties alongside the exactness of its geometry. Nevertheless, when complexity disappeared, simplicity was replaced by blandness.
The modernized architectural tools ease the management of the complex design process. The complexities of architectural design are in reaction to addressing real-world environment demands which in their nature requires simple as well as complex technique to get through. A modern sensor technique, as well as computations, offers dual purpose of sensing and analysis in real time different environmental, architectural designs. The new technologies make it possible for real-time adaptation of the process of design, achievement of virtual design tool requirement in addition to the adaptation of the conditions and physical structure in prevailing architectural environments. Surprisingly, amidst these sophisticated adaptive systems, there is the creation of complexity through simple pattern interactions. The modern digital technologies and compositional design methods provide viable opportunities for architectural designs. The range of new additionally creates a more significant educational challenge as they are not unique innovations or none existence ideas but just an extension of the old evaluated methods.
An architectural design has an obligation not to eliminate complexity but preserve it. Rudolf Arnheim, for instance, said that:
“Complexity and order, nevertheless, don’t exist in isolation. Complexity devoid of order results in confusion- and order without complexity attracts boredom. (…) It has been a common practice that a man’s greatest works combine high complexity with high order.”
The statement suggests that if work is done by combining order/chaos together with complexity/simplicity in unique and in complimenting context, there is a higher possibility to produce a structure that is in high spirit and detailed.
Being organized is the foundation of greater architecture which never erases complexity but rather reconfigures it. An architect has the capacity to decipher what can be perceived as a chaotic mess of brick, rubber, girders, rebar, wiring, conduits, ducts, aluminum and glass and reorganize them into a more straightforward, functioning and less chaotic building. In another case, a web designer can also create orderliness from chaos by utilizing images, copy, signposts, and mechanisms to generate a well-configured website. That is to mean order gives room to ascribe meaning or information to be less challenging to penetrate facilitating more understanding and communication. What needs to be done is to organize by retaining the essential component relationships if when changed, there will be extensive information and communication loss.
Making a set of architectural components or information does not attract clarity or improvement on most occasions. Planning to exploit the different house components like the hinges on a door are very important as compared to using hinges that are meant for drawers. Simplification, on the contrary, is a medium where information and elements are blended, removed or substituted according to job demands. However, complexity transformation into simplicity doesn’t act as information reservation. It can only work to corrupt or destroy information since there is a higher likelihood of information elimination. The secret behind simplification is that it has the capacity to enhance a direct or a more efficient communication at the cost of flexibility or comprehensiveness and the lost information cannot be regained, and if the culture is maintained for a specified duration, the original idea becomes extinct.
A major motive of a good design is to comprehensively address simplicity and complexity issues to make users, as well as viewers, find a more straightforward way of understanding as well as interactions. But when the motive eliminates all responsibility for cognitive work from the end user as well as the developers, the final architecture object will be less attractive. In some occasions, the situation does not only damage the user experience but results in an entirely failed design. The experience is summarized by Arnheim further research when he said that:
“Although there is a higher need for order to tolerate the demands of the outer and inner world, man cannot depress his experience to a network of accurately predictable connection at the expense of provoking life’s surprises and riches. Being designed with a lot of complexity must be complex in his actions if he is to be entirely himself.”
A modern style building is a depiction of simple rich forms comprising of visually expressive structures, infinite ornamentations as well as explicit functionality. In most of the occasions, simplicity starts through a singular geometry that is formed by a beautiful space enclosure. The simplicity ensures that the architect utilized only the necessary materials avoiding the more elements that the modern architectural design requires giving space for the geometry to self-fulfill other than increasing material requirements to make the final design appeal to the viewer as well as constitute innovations in architectural designs. All visible simplicity requires a lot of invisible complexity to make it work, and these intangible complications need a tremendous amount of work and fund to make it work
The modern orthodox architects have shifted their effort to determine complexity inconsistently and insufficiently. In their bid to break-off from the architectural traditions and have a new start, they idealized simplicity in total disregard to diverse and complex architecture. In their transformation roles, they pushed for the exclusion as well as separation of elements. Le Corbusier, for example, proposed “Greater primary forms” which he assumes to be less of ambiguity and distinct. It can, therefore, be deduced that modern architects are experiencing relative ambiguity due to the introduction of advanced concepts not to attract more artistical sophistication but to enhance the relevancy of architecture to contemporary societal needs.
Complexities are not unique but are a continuation of simple styles expanding the Mies van der Rohe analogy which states that “Less is more.” Through such a paradox, modern architecture has the sole role in prioritizing which architectural problems are more urgent than the rest. Mie continues to be relevant in that he makes magnificent buildings by merely ignoring many of the building concepts that he groups as not vital. For instance, Farnsworth House created by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is one of the best examples of complex elements supporting simple form and the combination of simplicity and complexity. The complexity not only shows up in structure but also in tiny details and arrangement, even in the corners. All of these are not just as simple as they are viewed.
Simplicity and complexity portrays a variety of relationships. In one instance, the duo complements each other where a design can be developed out of simple concepts. A complex architectural concept can also be simplified by avoiding unnecessary materials and building techniques. Secondly, being organized forms the foundation for a greater architecture which in itself never erase complexity or simplicity but points to a new reconfiguration with the original concept intact. The motive of modern architecture designs is to address simplicity and complexity issues to make users, as well as viewers, find a simpler way of understanding as well as interactions. But when the motive eliminates all responsibility for cognitive work from the end user as well as the developers, the final architecture object will be less attractive. In some occasions, the situation does not only damage the user experience but results in an entirely failed design. The modern digital technologies and architectural design methods provide viable opportunities for architectural models. The range of new additionally creates a more significant educational challenge as they are not innovations or none existence ideas but just an extension of the old tested methods
The new technology, therefore, demands an improvement of the initial designs but the simple form is maintained in the long run. The overall goal is not to come up with a new structure but to make an improvement suggesting that simplicity and complexity in contemporary architecture are supplementing each other contrary to the belief that a new structure is a composite of new ideas and concepts.
Miller, Danny. The Architecture of Simplicity, The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Jan., 1993), pp. 116-138, Academy of Management
Misfits' architecture. Accessed November 06, 2017. Retrieved https://misfitsarchitecture.com/tag/simplicity-vs-complexity/.
Rabagliati, Jonathan, Clemens Huber, and Dieter Linke. "BALANCING COMPLEXITY AND SIMPLICITY." In Fabricate 2014, edited by Fabio Gramazio, Matthias Kohler and Silke Langenberg (UCL Press).
Rashid, Mamun, Dilshad Rahat, Modernity in tradition: Reflections on building design and technology in the Asian vernacular, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foar.2014.11.001
Venturi, Robert. "Complexity and contradiction in architecture: Selections from a forthcoming book." Perspecta (1965): 17-56.
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